Almost six months old and already consuming books!
The house is quiet. The dog is asleep on the couch, tucked in an Auggie-ball in the corner. My wife is asleep. Our baby sleeps too. In this house full of sleep, I am awake. The sounds of the train rumble a few blocks away. My neighbor watches TV on his front porch, a well-stoked fire burns in his yard, an open living room to which the neighborhood is invited. It’s in this quiet that I think about fatherhood. I should be joining my family in dream, and yet, here I am, awake.
The topic of fatherhood came up in conversation the other day. Partly, because I am a new father, but also, because I mostly grew up without a father. I don’t know what that means in terms of learned behavior. After my dad died, my mom raised us alone. I watched her fight for her kids. I grew up in a household full of books and music and curiosity. My mom took us fishing. She fearlessly drove our old Dodge Caravan down overgrown logging two-tracks in the Upper Peninsula, sand spitting and tires humping over pine roots. From my mom, I’ve learned a parent is patient, uses seriousness and humor like sticks and carrots in diplomacy. I have no idea what it means to be a dad. I don’t identify with those caricatures on sitcoms or in Sunday commercials.
I will be there for my daughter. I will teach her to be curious, to ask questions, and to learn. I will watch over her with my wife. Protect her and nurture her. I will do all that I can for her, like my mother did for her sons. We’ll have fun. We’ll all go on adventures, whether they begin in a book or start near the shores of Lake Superior, in the dry heat of August, playing among Blue Spruce and Bracken ferns, the scent of wild blueberries in the breeze. ∞
On page 86 of An Unnecessary Woman. It’s so deliberate. Slow. A long conversation sitting in someone’s apartment. A love letter to literature. A remembrance of what a life in books costs. ∞
There are moments when I’m secretly happy to hear my daughter cry. It means she’s awake. It means I need to rock her to sleep, to hold her in my arms while she’s still so tiny.
I don’t like it when my daughter wakes up in the middle of the night, usually on her tummy, bewildered at being awake. However, I do like the weight of her little body in my arms, how her head nestles under my chin, the sounds as she slips back into sleep, small breathes in her darkened room.
I like these moments, because I know they can’t last. I know she’ll get bigger. I know she won’t wake up like that and need me in the middle of the night. I know these last five months have gone so fast and the next five years will speed by as well.
And so, I hear her wake and head into her room. I scoop her little body up and she immediately relaxes. I smell her hair. Feel her nestle in. A fluttery hand like a chickadee alights on my shoulder and I sway her back to sleep. The hum of the white noise machine is in the background. She yawns. I sit in the rocking chair and hold her. Minutes go by as she sleeps in my arms. I think I can hold her forever, or at least through the night. Then I lay her back in her crib, say goodnight and rest a hand on her tummy and chest. Her arms are stretched above her and her legs are angled out. There’s so much peace here. I close the door and head back to bed. I hope she doesn’t wake back up. And yet I do. ∞
The baby monitor malfunctioned and it reminded me of this anxiety dream I had when S was just weeks old. I’d hear her on the monitor and go to our room where she slept. I’d pick her up. I’d rock her and sway. I’d make shushing noises. But, then I’d hear another baby crying. The transmitter part of the baby monitor was now receiving. I’d set S down in her crib and walk down the hall. There’d be a new room. Inside this room was a crying baby. Not S. I’d walk to the crib and pick him or her up. I’d go through the same motions: rocking, swaying, shushing. Then, more cries from this baby’s transmitting monitor. I’d leave the room, looking for the crying baby. Suddenly, there are staircases to another level in our old house. They twist. They lead to a brightly lit, sparse room in our attic. There’s a baby. There are tears. I pick up the baby. I look at the monitor. I wait. The monitor crackles with static and I hear the sounds of a baby. She’s somewhere in our house. She’s crying. I need to find her. ∞
It’s hard to come up with the words. Or, maybe, it’s easy to become lost in thought. This picture was taken ten days ago and yet it seems like she’s changed so much. Bigger. Able to sit up. Rolling over and scooting backwards.
Sometimes, I imagine our baby daughter to be a tiny, foreign dignitary from another planet. We are her gracious hosts. She watches, she listens, widens her eyes, sticks out her tongue and makes noises. Expressions of wonder interchange with neutral looks like she’s thinking, this is the best you Earthlings have to offer? In response, we wiggle our fingers and make fart sounds with our mouths. She shows her approval with a smile and a turn of her head. Is she shy or just embarrassed for these strange, big people who have no shame in trying to keep her amused?
At four months old, her inability to speak builds mystery. What’s she thinking? What’s she want? What’s she feeling? Her arms reach out; she leans forward and wants to be held. Her head nestles under chins. Her face burrows into chests.
There’s a passage from Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater that may inspired this line of thought. It follows:
Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you’ve got a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies-God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.
So, as we teach this little baby our culture, our values, and what it means to be a human being on planet earth, kindness seems like a good place to start. I’ve been thinking of compassion recently. How can I approach situations with more compassion? What does it mean to be compassionate? But, perhaps, kindness is the richer word here. Kindness seems proactive whereas compassion seems more reactive. There has to be a negative situation for one to be compassionate. Being kind though may prevent a negative situation from happening in the first place. It’s not just babies that got to be kind. It’s us adults too. ∞